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Rondo-led Mavericks attack KD-less Thunder

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We look at how Rondo is fitting in and determine whether Parsons and Ellis can overcome repeated below-par performances against OKC.

Nightmare fuel in a 5'10" frame
Nightmare fuel in a 5'10" frame
W. Bennett Berry

The Dallas Mavericks, as always, are making moves to win. Armed by Mark Cuban's fat stacks of cash, the Mavericks have never needed to rebuild, or even draft well. Dallas simply attracts stars with big bucks and tax incentives, as well as one of the most tactically sound coaches in the NBA. This year's move to win, trading the Mavs bench for oft-injured Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, has been met with mixed reviews.

Those on Dallas' side say that Rondo is a championship winning point guard with defensive skills and offensive playmaking ability. The Mavs need someone at point to manage all of their weapons, and they need someone to shore up the perimeter defense. Rondo seems to fit the bill, providing a level of consistency that the Mavericks have never seen before. There's a great case to be made for Rondo, and Kate Crawford does a good job of elaborating on that in a recent column.

Still, that's not to say that Rondo will make the Mavs a championship contender immediately. Lamar Matic analyzed the acquisition over at his blog, and he sums up my thoughts in a nutshell:

"All in all, I have to say – I do think that Dallas made the right move. It’s a trade that has implications on their future and it shouldn’t be graded based on this season. They got a capable and smart player who might get other players on board once he signs his new deal with Dallas and they shift into the post-Dirk era. But I just think that people are over-reacting by suddenly placing Dallas one tier higher than before. They were an outstanding offensive team as it was and their biggest shortcoming was their defense. That hasn’t changed. And as I said before – their offense might even suffer. They’re still a Western team whose run could possibly end in the first round as much as it could happen to any other team."

Early returns on the Rondo trade seem to favor Mr. Matic's opinion. He even posted a follow up column, pretty much breaking down how the Mavs got their only quality win with Rondo by exploiting bad zone defense. To be fair, it's still way too early to know what Rondo's impact will be. Adjusting players to a new team's offense, especially offenses that they're supposed to run, takes time. Furthermore, the Mavs have no idea what they're going to do with their bench. Charlie Villanueva and Greg Smith are likely not playoff-worthy solutions, and it remains to be seen just how easily Wright's ridiculous shooting efficiency can be replaced.

Shifting away from Rondo, it's been an interesting season for Dallas' other stars. Dirk Nowitzki continues to be the most reliable offensive weapon in the NBA over the age of 35, but has seen a significant dip in his three point percentage. Monta Ellis is just as good as he's ever been, using his speed to run around Dirk and Chandler's screens for easy scores at the rim. Ellis outside shot is still a bit suspect, but his ridiculous efficiency when shooting and driving from the right elbow more than makes up for it. Chandler Parsons is also a big part of Dallas' offensive attack, providing the outside spot shooting and weak-side drives that every team wants.

Still, when you take two of Dallas' big three out of the context of the NBA and into the context of their performances against the Oklahoma City Thunder, they seem a bit less intimidating. Sure, Monta Ellis is known for dropping 48 against the Thunder while with the Warriors back in 2012. But Ellis' has fared noticably worse while in a Dallas uniform. I'm assuming it's because the Thunder generally have a lot of defenders in the high post and like to pressure in that area. Chandler Parsons has never been able to get much going against OKC, either. All but one of his games saw him shoot below 40%, and he couldn't manage more than an average night on the boards. I'd say his deficiency is due to Serge Ibaka, who can fool you into thinking he's father away than he is when he's defending a shot.

Because of Parsons' and Ellis' recent deficiencies against the Thunder and the integration of Rondo, I'm going to go ahead and say that the Thunder have the upper hand heading into this game. OKC's defense worked perfectly against Charlotte. I know that the Hornets' offense is the polar opposite of what the Mavs have on offer, but it should give the Thunder some confidence heading into this game. Another thing I'd like to note is that the Mavs are only averaging 12.5 turnovers on the season, good for 6th best in the league. But over their last four losses, the Mavs have averaged 17 turnovers a game. Thus, heavy pressure might be in the Thunder's best interest.

Of course, I'm completely forgetting about Kevin Durant. A couple of solid wins over the holiday break will do that to a person. But obviously, he'd be a huge help in a game like this. Without him, the Thunder are going to have to throw extra possessions to less reliable sources. We're going to have to count on our stars to all make a few more shots. Given how successful Westbrook has been against Rondo in the past and Ibaka's rock solid performances against Dallas last season, I don't foresee any problems. But Dallas can always outscore you. Always.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Dallas Mavericks 102.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 32
(Won 2)

(Won 1)
December 28th, 2014
American Airlines Center, Dallas, Texas
6:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Southwest
Injury Report: Kevin Durant (Questionable), Mitch McGary, Raymond Felton (Out)
Last Season's Matchups: Nov 6th (W 107-93), Mar 17 (L 109-86), Mar 25 (L 119-108 OT)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Rajon Rondo
Andre Roberson SG Monta Ellis
Kevin Durant or Perry Jones III SF Chandler Parsons
Serge Ibaka PF Dirk Nowitzki
Steven Adams C Tyson Chandler